How specialist media owners see their future: realistic optimism

I’m cheered by the optimism shown by specialist media owners who responded to the survey we ran with Fusion Communications for the Specialist Media Show.  They are well aware of the dramatic changes coming in their industry, but seem to be pragmatic and forward looking in their responses.  117 senior managers from b2b and consumer specialist media took part, across a range of businesses from one-title independents to mid-sized publishers with 6-10 titles. I’m referring to them as publishers, but most have print, digital and live events in their portfolio. What struck me is the gradual diversification of revenue sources:

1. Realistic optimism

Most b2b publishers are particularly concerned about developing revenues from digital editions,  how to charge for online content, and how to convert free to paid, while consumer publishers are most worried about declining online ad rates.  The majority of respondents, however, expect their overall revenues to grow over the next two years, and 71% are optimistic about the future of their business

2. Print and events still biggest revenue source but in sharp decline

For b2b publishers, print advertising is expect to decline sharply – by 42% – and conferences and events will slip by 6%.  However, print subs are expected to grow by 52%, so overall “traditional” media revenues will still contribute 44% of overall revenues.  Consumer publishers also expect strong growth in subs (+19%) while print news and print ads both fall by 20%, so again the “old media” will still contribute 65% of revenues.

3. Rapid expansion of digital revenues

Business media owners expect dramatic growth from digital editions, and online subs – but they will only account for 15% of revenues.  Online advertising will continue to expand, contributing 9% of revenues.  Consumer media are changing more slowly, but they still expect online ads to expand to 9% of revenues, and most are exploring paid online content, mobile and ereader versions, even if the volumes are still slow.  Factory media now see that 6% of their paid circulation is from mobile apps, so this will gradually become a more important source of revenue.

4. Business media revenue models will shift dramatically in longer term

We asked media owners about longer term shifts in their business.  There is a clear consensus that newsstand will gradually disappear as a channel for b2b mags, with 66% expecting printed b2b mags to be subs only in 10 years’ time.  38% think this will happen in 3 years.  A significant minority (36%) think all printed b2b mags will cease in 10 years’ time.  Within 10 years, 49% expect 50% of online b2b content will be paid-for by users rather than free.

5. Print will be more resilient for consumer media

The shift to subs will also be seen for consumer print, albeit more slowly – only 31% expect consumer mags to be subs only in 10 years time.  Only 18% believe that consumer mags will cease to exist in print in that timescale, and 53% think this will never happen.  Specialist markets will hold out for longer, with  44% agreeing that in 10 years time only specialist mags will exist in print.  Charging for online consumer content is more of an uphill battle, with just 33% thinking that 50% of consumer online content will be paid-for in 10n years, and 34% feeling that this will never happen.

What is your opinion?  Does this seem unrealistically optimistic – or a pragmatic response to a gradual realignment of how readers consume media, where agile publishers can reinvent their business rather than just close it down?  Do comment below, or join the discussion on the Specialist Media Network on Linked in, where over 300 specialist media owners can swap ideas and tips.

About the author: Carolyn  Morgan runs Penmaen Media, a consultancy advising media owners on how to profit from digital media and marketing. She is also content director for the Specialist Media Show. If you’d like an informal discussion about how you can develop new revenue sources for your specialist media business please contact Penmaen Media for a chat.